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The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars

A Neuropsychologist's Odyssey Through Consciousness
Narrated by: Simon Bubb
Length: 11 hrs
4.5 out of 5 stars (25 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

When celebrated neuropsychologist Paul Broks' wife died of cancer, it sparked a journey of grief and reflection that traced a lifelong attempt to understand how the brain gives rise to the soul. The result of that journey is a gorgeous, evocative meditation on fate, death, consciousness, and what it means to be human.

The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars weaves a scientist’s understanding of the mind - its logic, its nuance, how we think about what makes a person - with a poet’s approach to humanity, that crucial and ever-elusive why. It’s a story that unfolds through the centuries, along the path of humankind’s constant quest to discover what makes us human, and the answers that consistently slip out of our grasp. It’s modern medicine and psychology and ancient tales; history and myth combined; fiction and the stranger truth.

But, most importantly, it’s Broks’ story, grounded in his own most fascinating cases as a clinician - patients with brain injuries that revealed something fundamental about the link between the raw stuff of our bodies and brains and the ineffable selves we take for who we are. Tracing a loose arc of loss, acceptance, and renewal, he unfolds striking, imaginative stories of everything from Schopenhauer to the Greek philosophers to jazz guitarist Pat Martino in order to sketch a multifaceted view of humanness that is as heartbreaking at it is affirming.

©2018 Paul Broks (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars is a work of extraordinary insight and imagination. Broks is a 21st century Dante of the human psyche, guiding us on a journey full of surprise, erudition, and wit.” (David George Haskell, author of The Forest Unseen and The Songs of Trees)

"In this gorgeous kaleidoscope of a book, the neuroscientist Paul Broks takes us image by image, story by story, into an exploration of life with all its brilliant hues of grief and despair, joy and resilience, biology and society. There's science here, and curiosity, and humanity, all forming a remarkable portrait of who we are—and who we hope to be." (Deborah Blum, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of The Poisoner’s Handbook)  

“In a style sometimes reminiscent of The Last Lecture, Broks blends wonder with pessimistic hope. He adumbrates that there is something unbelievable, perhaps even magical, in the 'absurdity' of consciousness and related phenomena, and he thrills to the precarious individuality of our imaginings. [The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars is] a unique addition to the realm of popular brain science.” (Kirkus Reviews)

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    5 out of 5 stars

Deeply philosophical work by a gifted neuroscientist

This audiobook is wonderfully written, enjoyably performed and extremely worth diving into. The narrative is intertwined with parables and real-life scenarios, all of which drive at consciousness and the workings that go along with it: life, death, the mind, god, anger, passion, drinking, doubt, etc. what constitutes our “being” and how often do we reflect genuinely on our lives? We should. More and more.

You WILL not regret it. I am about to order a physical copy for my library; absolutely will be returning to this again and again.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • RCSL
  • St. Louis, MO
  • 10-13-18

What a beautiful book

As much poetry as science, this is a meditation on consciousness by a cognitive psychologist whose wife died of cancer in her 50s. It draws on his clinical experience, research (his and many others'), storytelling, dreams and possibly hallucinations, and much Greek mythology. Philosophy (the author rips up Cartesian dualism) and the history of science are in the mix. One of the most enjoyable books I have come across in a while and highly recommended.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Gary
  • Las Cruces, NM, United States
  • 07-13-18

Meaning is where you find it

Does life have meaning if we die? The Being of the now that leads to consciousness is it the ‘hard problem’? Is there a ‘self’ over time, does the question even make sense or is the ship of Theseus not a paradox. Is my partner a Zombie with 15% probability as the author implies with a vignette? All of these kinds of questions are standard neuroscience ponderings, but they are told with finesse and nuance within this story and are always highly entertaining and at times laugh out loud funny.

The author starts the book with a quote from Albert Einstein on how a friend dying before Einstein really doesn’t matter because time is just an illusion and all that has happened and all that will happen has already happened within the block universe (you do believe in cause and effect? Or do you lean with Heraclites and we never cross the same river and all is ‘becoming’ not being?). Time is an illusion but it does not mean that consciousness is an illusion, as the author will say that for something to be an illusion it must be within the consciousness and if there is not consciousness there could be no illusion. Delusions are different, the author will say, a delusion is to know with certainty something about reality to be true but is not true. Certainty is the enemy of growth and stifles the discovery of meaning.

The author suggests that the origins of a thought that led to the awareness of the self could be as Jaynes speculates in the pseudoscientific ‘The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind’ with his schizophrenic explanation for self awareness and explaining the universality of a God, or the more elegant theory of Antonio Damasio with the more believable path way that involves homeostasis and entropy (the author mentioned one of Damsio’s book, but I would recommend this one ‘The Strange Order of Things’). The author will let the astute reader decide for themselves which theory is more credible.

Sometimes one must go down to a deep dark well in order to see the stars as Thales of Miletus did, ‘the darker the night, the brighter the stars’ and the more we can understand and the more meaning we find. As the author was reflecting on his life, he had realized that he had never applied his psychological expertise onto himself. Sometimes, it takes an event from the outside before one can reflect and understand the meaningful.

I’m fairly certain that the Wall Street Journal review that led me to this book used the word ‘nihilist’ to describe the author. That was an unfortunate use of the word. The author of this book is smart enough to not outsource his meaning to any book or unfounded authority or belief in fairy tales that aren’t supported by reason or rational thought. The author refutes the myth of Sisyphus and Camus’ only question of philosophy ‘should we kill ourselves’. That author points out that Camus does muddle the response, but the author knows that our meaning must lie within ourselves not outside of us. The real ‘absurdity’ that Camus alludes to is that we all know that we will die one day with certainty but we all act as if we won’t.

Nihilism ultimately means that there is no meaning in life and the author clearly knows that there is while not appealing to fairy tales for his support. Everyone has the option to search for what is true, what is ethically good and what is deserving of their time, and the author is using all the tools at his disposal in order to ‘awaken us from our dogmatic slumber’ and will make the reader think about problems in terms they almost certainly had never thought about previously. Sometimes, as illustrated with the author’s story, the ring of our deceased spouse that shows up out of the blue as a picture of the spouse falls from the closet, the event itself has no further meaning than the event itself. We impute purpose and meaning when the universe is just being itself and there is no reason beyond itself, pernicious teleology haunts us more than ghosts ever will.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • robert
  • GERMANTOWN, TN, United States
  • 02-14-19

Like a Symphony

Paul Broks writes in symphonic style .He combines the stages of his grief reaction , over the loss of his beloved wife ,with his interest in Greek mythology , modern physics and his professional expertise in neuroscience , especially consciousness theory. In the audible version , I felt as though I was conversing with him directly. . He develops each theme in a sonata form manner but repeats their development as a recursive rondo .He thoroughly covers his grief although it’s never really over.The other topics are moving targets . I would like to discuss with him the relationship between the Big Bang and Quantum Entanglement and good vibrations. Also I would like to discuss Tononi's Phi, AI ,gated semiconductors and threshold voltages, integrated circuits and emergence as they relate to the 6 layer cerebral cortex.Yet finally, it is a beautiful and moving book . Like a symphony , it should be listened to start to finish.REM

1 of 1 people found this review helpful